ORLEANS -- About 12 years ago, a fellow longtime resident of Cape Cod invited me to see his favorite Cape spot. We drove down Route 28, between Orleans and Chatham, and turned onto Namequoit Road, continuing along the narrow, winding way until it ended at a small conservation area called Paw Wah Point.
It was shady and woodsy, with stands of pine and oak, tangles of bull brier and poison ivy, and needle-strewn paths that we followed past picnic tables down to the beach. We could walk along the shoreline, which was thick with dried eelgrass and salt hay. Only a few houses were visible on the bluff high above us. My fellow walker pointed out Barley Neck, a house-covered peninsula across the water, as well as the nearby Sampson, Hog, and Pochet islands. In the distance, on the other side of the bay, we could see the long, narrow spit of land that was North Beach. Though it was a sunny, late October day, there was no one in sight, except for a few kayakers paddling by in bright red and yellow boats.
We were looking out at Little Pleasant Bay, one of Cape Cod's somewhat unknown, yet loved-by-those-who-know-it, spots. Today, little seems to have changed at this upper end of Pleasant Bay, a 9,000-acre estuary. North Beach still acts as a buffer, sheltering the area from the rough winds and pounding surf of the ocean. That makes for a kinder, gentler Little Pleasant Bay, popular for aquaculture, sport fishing, bird watching, and beach walking. North Beach and most of the islands in the bay are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore or owned by conservation trusts. Also, an active group, Friends of Pleasant Bay (www.fopb.org), works to preserve and protect the bay.
Pan-Mediterranean dining in Orleans; Page F6
There's good fishing here, especially for bass and blues, and it's great for birding. During the fall shorebird migration season, visitors can see ruffs, Hudsonian godwits, and whimbrels. Owners of small boats swoon over Little Pleasant Bay. It's too shallow for bigger boats, and there are so many coves, creeks, rivers, and salt marshes, that there is plenty of exploring to do. Or you can stay on land and see red foxes, eastern box turtles, and more.
Still, there are reasons more people don't know about this place. Not much of it is visible from the main roads. There are no signs pointing to the correct side road. And while there's access to the bay in several spots, including town landings in Orleans, most of the parking areas are small, unmarked, and unpaved. When visiting, it's best to have a map (available from town offices or chambers of commerce).
The lack of signs and markers is evidence of a relaxed feeling around Little Pleasant Bay, where conversation is more likely to focus on fixing wooden boats and raking quahogs than on restaurants and real estate. Arey's Pond Boat Yard in South Orleans still builds small sailboats to order, and local quahoggers and clammers go out in skiffs to harvest the bay's crop.
Much of this area looks the way it did decades ago, when the bay in summer was thick with children learning how to sail and tie knots. For the century between the 1880s and 1980s, Little Pleasant Bay was home to several summer camps, where boys and girls (at separate camps) came to learn sailing and boating, archery, tennis, riflery, swimming, woodworking, baseball, chess, and that time-honored tradition, lanyard making.
The camps are gone, victims in the 1970s and '80s of skyrocketing land value coupled with the escalating cost of doing business, including higher liability insurance premiums and stricter safety codes.
There are still plenty of other ways to experience Little Pleasant Bay. One of the best is to get out onto it. Take guided kayaking or canoeing trips with groups like the Massachusetts Audubon Society or Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures. Or head off on your own (with proper gear, including a good map), take your boat to the end of River Road in East Orleans, and explore. David Weintraub, author of "Adventure Kayaking: Trips on Cape Cod," calls Little Pleasant Bay "one of the best places to paddle on Cape Cod." One reason is that much of the water is shallow even around high tide, so you won't see power boats outside the main channel. You can find shellfishing operations around Broad Creek, see osprey at nesting platforms on Hog and Sampson islands, or watch green herons along the salt marsh.
If it's too cold, too windy, or otherwise not prudent to venture into the water, one of the nicest walks is through the Orleans Conservation Trust property at Kent's Point, in South Orleans. It's a long peninsula, about 28 acres, that pokes out into the bay with several trails that interconnect.
At the end of the point is the spot where the old Kent homestead used to be. Charlotte Kent spent most summers there from 1902 till 1998, when she died shortly before her 100th birthday. In 1988, she sold the land to the town's conservation trust for far less than it was worth because she wanted to preserve a little piece of the Orleans she had known.
The house was taken down in 1999, but visitors can still find the cement foundation on which the gazebo stood. Those who stand there and look out onto Pleasant Bay can experience a little of the world as Kent knew it.
Kathy Shorr is a freelance writer living in Wellfleet.